- Tang Jiali scored four times in 2020 AFC Women's Olympic qualifying
- She will be a key player for China PR in their play-off against Korea Republic
- Forward tells FIFA.com about her development and Olympic hopes
China PR's Olympic hopes hinge on February's crunch AFC qualifying play-off against Korea Republic. With the stakes high and no margin for error in their bid to reach Women's Olympic Football Tournament Tokyo 2020, the Steel Roses will be hoping Tang Jiali reproduces the goalscoring form which saw her finish as the team's top scorer during the preliminary competition's group campaign.
Nine months ago, the dynamic China No9 announced her emergence on the continental scene by scoring four goals in just three matches, including a spectacular effort in the 1-1 draw against Australia .
"I can shoot with both feet but in this case I used my left foot," the 25-year-old Shanghai FC forward told FIFA.com. "This goal should be largely attributed to the support by my team-mates. [Wang] Shanshan made the move and Ma Jun absorbed the defenders' attention so I could find space to shoot."
The Matildas would hit back hard in the closing minutes and were ultimately rewarded when Emily Van Egmond smashed home the equaliser in stoppage time. But while that goal took Australia through on goal difference in the most dramatic and, for China, heartbreaking fashion, Tang was able to draw some positives.
"We entered the qualifying campaign better prepared," she explained. "Coach Jia [Xiuquan] employed a proper game plan against them. We put in good performances and were the better side."
Marvelling at Messi
Tang started playing football at seven when she was spotted by a coach from a local primary school in Shanghai. With exceptional pace and agility, she was deployed as a striker, and became obsessed with one of the world's all-time greats.
"I like his style of play very much. And I admire him for his never-say-die spirit," she said of Lionel Messi. "As for myself, I think I have good vision and I can easily find space. I am always hungry for goals but I also enjoy linking up with my team-mates."
Tang first made waves on the international scene the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Canada, where she was on target in a 5-5 goal-thriller against Germany. A year later she returned to country for her senior FIFA Women's World Cup debut, showing glimpses of her talents in the 1-0 defeat of the Netherlands.
"I was excited to play in my first Women's World Cup, although it was a pity having not scored a goal despite my efforts. It was a blow to my confidence but it also gave me the opportunity to see my shortcomings," reflected Tang.
She would spend the following years further honing her skills and gaining experience, and this year has seen the talented forward - toughened up both physically and mentally - live up to her early promise. Following on from those fine performances in Olympic qualifying, Tang has continued her prolific form in the 2020 Chinese Women's Super League, managing seven goals as her team finished in the top three.
"I should have scored at least two or three more goals," she said. "I caught a cold in the latter stages of the campaign and I was not on the top of my game."
Tang will have now have another chance to prove herself in February, with Korea Republic awaiting her national team in the all-important playoff. With the winners going to Tokyo 2020 and the losers leaving empty-handed, it is must-win encounter.
"It would be my first Olympic Games, so I am really looking forward to helping my team," she concluded. "We are aware that our opponents are not a weak team. But we can win it if we show our top form and keep to the strategy. I am very confident."